All tequila funnels aside, Tijuana isn’t really what you’d call a cocktailer’s town. South of the border, mixed drinks are generally reserved for upper-crust social drinkers who—whether they’re aware of it or not—are actually shelling out an amount that could feed a family of four for the better half of a week in exchange for little more than some mango Jumex and grenadine-soaked sugar on the rim of their glass.
There’s also the trust factor. The unspoken rule of a thumb around here is to never drink anything at a bar that you didn’t see a waiter open for the first time right in front of your face—but not out of fear of being roofied and losing your kidneys to the black market. Despite what your friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s stepmom’s colonic specialist’s second cousin from Lakeside says, that probably never happened to anyone, anyway.
The monster clubs that once ruled Avenida Revolución were notorious for watering down their booze supplies, a technique that’s still often used in places where 80 pesos scores you four hours of open bar. So, basically, it all breaks down to simple economics: Who in their right mind pays $7 or $8 for a few ounces of flat Squirt that may or may not have a miniscule amount of tequila in it when a Bohemia costs $2.50?
What Tijuana lacks in cocktail culture it makes up for in cheap and readily available cerveza, but beer after beer after otra pinche beer eventually gets old. Thankfully, the craft cocktail is at long last on the rise along Sixth Street, the city center’s new locals-geared nightlife hub that rose out of the ashes of the tourist nuclear winter. Here’s a walkable plan for five places for drinks over the course of an evening, and if you play your cards right, you’ll probably even make it home with both kidneys:
La Mezcalera: Some 20 varieties of mezcal are on tap at this Almodovar-inspired cantina on Sixth Street between Revolución and Madero avenues, which in May made its Travel Channel debut on Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. The place is more or less credited with lighting the wick on Tijuana’s after-dark renaissance, and a year after it opened during the height of the drug war in 2009, some 30 or so new watering holes had nearly filled an entire two-block stretch. Work your way through all 20 if you want, but chances are, you’ll vomit it all back up, which is why I’d just go with a couple rounds of the Padrino (the Godfather), which is Squirt and mescal and a huge orange wedge.
Tinieblo: Taxidermy pumas, red-velvet curtains and wooden plank floors come as the butch balance to what would otherwise be a frou-frou but nonetheless absolutely amazing roster of mezcal slushies at the dark, narrow bar on Sixth Street between Madero and Negrete avenues. Topping the menu of 10 or so options are the Pulp Friction (chamoy and lime), the Tamarrica (tamarin Cointreau and lime) and the Slimer-green De La Verde (spearmint and lime). Eat a bacon-wrapped, marlin-stuffed shrimp taco at La Corriente, the adjoining marisco restaurant that looks like it was decorated by an Acapulco drag queen who just won the lottery (in a good way), before heading over to the bar to stomp out DJ Chucuchu’s cumbia Ace of Base remixes.
Mous Tache: An all-around ode to the joy of the ’stache, the small bar on Avenida Madero between Sixth and Seventh streets serves a grand total of 35 shots that go for 35 pesos ($3 or so) apiece, all of which are named after iconic mustached pop-culture icons. The roll call includes Borat (vodka and Midori Melon), Burt Reynolds (Jack Daniels and almond schnapps), Martin Luther King (tequila and Kahlua), Mario (cranberry and Kahlua), Magnum (rum and blue curacao), Einstein (lime, coffee, sugar and vodka) and Zorro (Jägermeister and coconut rum).
Kalimoxo: Callejon de la Sexta is an alley between Constitución and Revolución avenues that houses four separate bars—you’re free to buy a drink in one and roam around the others. Kalimoxo is named after its signature drink, which consists of cheap red wine and Coca-Cola. Sound gross? Think of it as the screwdriver of Spain. Still sound gross? Just across the hall is a pulque bar.
Porky’s: A month or so ago, the discoteca mecca to ’80s music at Avenida Revolución and Sixth Street extended its piggy theme to the third floor for a 21-and-up VIP lounge complete with a piggy-shaped tunnel that’s rimmed in neon-pink lighting and padded with hot-pink fur, piggy-shaped stool backs, piggy-shaped windows, piggy-print wallpaper and a roster of cocktails that mirrors the set list. Stars include the Purple Rain (grape juice, peach schnapps, vodka, Cointreau, Jägermeister and tonic), the Material Girl (champagne, licor de oro, Goldschläger and Cointreau) and the Personal Jesus (vodka, lime, salt, grenadine and molecular grenadine caviar).
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